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Young scientist knows stem cells, to a T

17th January 2008

Young scientist Anne Fletcher has won the inaugural Kay Patterson Award for Research Excellence for her work in identifying cells that could stop donor tissue rejection in transplant patients.

The final-year PhD student at the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories focuses on T-Cells - the gate-keepers of human immunity. She has discovered a stem cell that turns into the ‘Thymic Epithelial Cell’ (TEC) group, a class crucial to teaching T-Cells the difference between a person’s own tissue and anything foreign or dangerous.She believes that if these stem cells were taken from an organ donor and transplanted into the transplant patient along with the main donation, they could eventually help train the T-Cells in the recipient’s body to accept donor tissue as its own. Recipients of organ and tissue donation currently rely on stringent pharmaceutical regimens to prevent rejection.

“This break-through foresees a future where transplant recipients can live a life without drugs or the imminent fear of a downturn in their health caused by tissue rejection,” says Ms Fletcher, who is supervised by Professor Richard Boyd, deputy director of MISCL.

The keen horse-rider and scientific freelance writer one day dreams of running a small dairy farm or running an immunology lab, but currently relishes the excitement of being recognised for her scientific work.

 “It’s a huge honour to receive this award, particularly because of MISCL’s reputation as a world-class research facility.”

The Kay Patterson Award is given to an outstanding higher degree student within MISCL. It is named in honour of former Federal Senator Kay Patterson, who is regarded as the scientific community as a champion of stem cell legislation.

MISCL, which was founded by stem cell pioneer Alan Trounson, is part of the Monash School of Biomedical Sciences – a robust scientific institute housing 700 researchers at the Clayton campus.

How it happens

Anne’s stem cells → become → TEC Cells → train → T-Cell
If implanted into a transplant recipient’s body, the donor’s stem cells would create many TEC cells, which would then train the T-Cells to recognise the donor tissue as their own.